Thu 3 May 2007
Via Council member Mark Kleinschmidt’s ‘blog, it appears we’re well on the way to Chapel Hill getting a carrot to entice developers to adhere to better environmental standards.
The new law :
“Sec. 5.19. Ordinances permitting density bonuses and other land‑use development incentives for development projects agreeing to meet energy conservation carbon reduction standards.
For the purpose of reducing the amount of energy consumption by new development, and thereby promoting the public health, safety, and welfare, the Town of Chapel Hill may grant a density bonus, make adjustments to otherwise applicable development requirements, or provide other incentives to a developer within the Town and its extraterritorial planning jurisdiction if the developer agrees to construct new development or reconstruct existing development in a manner that the Town determines, based on generally recognized standards established for such purposes, makes a significant contribution to the reduction of energy consumption.“
When Council first proposed this quid pro quo type approach I was excited.
Sure, smart developers would already be pursuing state-of-the-art strategies to lessen energy consumption. Savvy business folks recognize that reducing the energy footprint of a building is now a key market differentiator – that many environmentally-sound design practices actually are inexpensive. Nothing like building a premium into ones property with no negligible impact on the bottom line.
For those developers not quite as sold on the economic and ecological benefits, Chapel Hill would have this new carrot.
My excitement, though, has been tempered by recent history. With poor Council leadership, this law could allow for greater abuses in land management. Look how Strom and company forced through a new planning zone – TC-3 – allowing more than double the density and %33 more height in the Downtown area. They used Greenbridge, a development adhering to the highest environmental standards, as cover for their sleight-of-hand approval of a new policy that, I believe, many in Chapel Hill would not agree with.
In the hands of the “rah rah” growth crowd,this energy miser ordinance could be used as a bludgeon to hammer our Town into rough conformity with their “density at any cost” vision.
To protect against abuse, it is key that a mechanism be created to adopt the highest objective standards for measuring energy reductions and to design in future flexibility for adopting other “best in class” metrics to keep our local ordinance “evergreen”.
Further, there should be NO in lieu provision (something which has been greatly abused in the affordable housing arena). A developer either adheres to these objective standards to get their “carrot” of increased density or not get a variance.
Without these additional provisions, we’re facing the great possibility of more poor public policy “greenwashed” and cloaked in the rhetoric of environmental remediation.